Building Your 12V Team: Finding the ‘Golden Employee’
How Hawaii’s Certified Sounds attracted qualified help from the mainland
One of the biggest business hurdles for mobile electronics retailers (and custom integrators, too) is finding qualified help. Typically, a successful shop follows this timeline: A young entrepreneur opens a small facility where he or she is involved in all facets of the business - from sales, to installation, to the monotonous paperwork at the end of the day. But their quality and good attitude shines through. The business grows, and they hire another employee, freeing up some time that would be spent in the installation bay on the sales floor. The extra sales coverage now has the second tech in the installation bay booked with larger jobs, and the owner pitches in whenever he or she can. The owner is not selling deck-and-twos, but rather, OEM integration, safety, and vehicle enhancement projects. Typical sub-$1,000 dollar jobs are now escalated to $3,000-$4,000 jobs with careful qualifying of the customer and good salesmanship.
Now, the biggest hurdle comes: Having additional manpower in the bay with the skillset and correct attitude to get the job done. As much as the business owner is thrilled to have the work, it is typically the angry spouse who after a few months steps in and states “How can you expect to have a family life if you get home at midnight four nights a week?” Their wisdom is correct. None of us are afraid of sporadic 12-hour days, but six days a week of burning the midnight oil will burn any business owner out quickly. The person who can help recoup business owners their valuable time is the specialty technician – the one who has the proper skillset to jump into a job and break it down into logical steps so even if they step away, the business owner or another tech can jump in and take over.
Unfortunately, this type of golden employee is the toughest to come by. Moreover, they typically command more than an average installer with a couple of years of experience at a big-box retailer. But the results are worth it. Having someone that knows what they are doing frees up the business owner to both sell and organize the shop. That leads to more work, and everyone wins – especially the specialty tech who really loves to be creative but hates paperwork. But to find these elite installation techs, businesses sometimes have to look out of their direct area.
How Certified Sounds Did It
Certified Sounds is an especially unusual case. Located in beautiful Maui, Hawaii, the retailer has become the premier car audio retailer in the chain of islands. Founder Derek Pace emulated our fictitious person in the beginning of our story – working hard for many late nights. He grew his team and his business grew proportionally. In addition to running the store and shop, Pace is also a member of the CTA’s Automotive Technology Division (ATD) Board and is a past member of the CTA’s Board of Industry Leaders (BIL). He values proper education for technicians. Setting an example to his employees, Pace holds an ASE A6 certification and MECP Honorary Master certification. In 2018, the company expanded into high-end two-channel home audio, home automation and home theater to continue serving their diverse clientele. This new endeavor sent him on a mission to find some talent in the automotive bay. This way, he knew the installations would be handled properly as he expanded into the custom installation home market.
The island of Maui is large, but with a population of about 125,000, there is a lack of trained installers for a people who cherish their rides. Pace knew he had to look outside of the regular avenues and bring someone in from the ‘mainland.’ He notes, “Sadly, our industry still has a shortage of skilled workers available. I was looking locally first with no success of finding qualified techs.” He knew he had to find someone with exemplary skills that was also willing to stay the course and remain a member of the team. He noted that most applicants heard “Hawaii” and thought it was the type of gig where you could kick back and enjoy a Mai Tai between vehicles. But, as any good technician knows, any shop that is stable and can afford to pay good technicians is bound to be busy.
Pace wanted to make sure his new hire would have the technical chops necessary for the job, so he reached out to friend Todd Ramsey of Ramsey Consulting Group to help procure a new tech. Ramsey developed a program to effectively qualify candidates with the best chance for success – kind of a hybrid between a headhunter and a matchmaker. They came across Christopher Simpson, who had experience working with manufacturers VOXX Electronics and Mobileye as a technical support specialist. In addition, Simpson worked in the bays of retailers in New York, so he knew both product from a manufacturer’s standpoint, and how to install it in a fast-paced environment.
Ramsey discusses the new program: “I’ve been developing this interesting headhunting ‘service’ over the past year or so, and started with Derek and the ultimate hire of Christopher Simpson. It’s born out of the need for qualified people in the 12-volt aftermarket, and it just resonated with me how many retailers face this struggle. The service has had refinements as I’ve worked with other retailers, but it’s basically a way for a business owner to avoid spending time on the process of writing a classified ad, getting it run on various industry and job-related websites, interviewing candidates, and finally making a short list of prospects.
“When our service handles all of that,” he explains, “we serve the retailer that short list with a report of how to approach further interviews and suggested pay, benefits or other details that would secure an ideal candidate for employment. We charge a flat fee and will interview and report on up to 10 candidates. The business owner is ultimately responsible for final interviews and deciding who to hire, but we even help with the offer letter to ensure the opportunity is effectively communicated to the candidate. This all elevates the perceived professionalism of the business while leaving the time-consuming part of the process to our service. This way, the business owner focuses on running the day-to-day business.”
Pace was insistent that the person he would be bringing to Hawaii would be qualified with the proper certifications in place. For many retailers, this first step ensures their candidate is taking their career path seriously. Pace says, “Simpson holds both MECP Master and ASE A6 technician credentials, which was a key factor in the decision to bring him aboard. We focus on bringing in staff members who have a long-term outlook on improvement in their professional career goals. Christopher having acquired those MECP and ASE certifications is a very important achievement. As we continue to grow, we want to attract and retain the very best people.” So far, the relationship has been working out great. “Working with Chris has been a great experience,” says Pace. “We both share similar thought patterns and philosophies.” Simpson notes, “I am excited to continue my career in Hawaii by learning and honing my skills. I love the industry and my goal is to help bring awareness to clients and industry professionals on the importance of continued education.”
The tricky part for Pace is he knew he had to help any candidate get established on an island that would probably be at least 2,500 miles away (in Simpson’s case, around 5,000 miles). But Pace was excited about helping Simpson make the transition and wanted to help him make it smoothly. As we all know, good technicians can acquire a lot of specialty tools that weigh hundreds of pounds. Moving them from one shop to another can be headache. “Toolbox transportation was arranged through my local freight forwarder,” said Pace. “They arranged to pick up Chris’ tools in New York and got it to my freight forwarding dock in California. This took about three weeks. We flew Chris in on a direct flight via Hawaiian Airlines, which now has a hub at JFK.” Simpson also knew he needed Pace’s help to get established. “We were able to help Chris lock in a two-bedroom condo within walking distance to the shop at a very good price. This will help him get situated and learn the lay of the rest of our land. Chris was able to get his feet on the ground and we made the move as painless as possible.”
Once Simpson was up and running, it allowed Pace the time needed to develop his next big project – a state-of-the-art showroom experience center that can display the company’s capabilities. “The new showroom is coming along,” Pace says. “I wanted to be finished by December, but made the decision to not cut corners and rush. I have waited this long, and I will continue to see my dream come to life the way I have envisioned. Our new experience center will be very different than your traditional retail storefront. This new experience center will make it easier for Chris and any new hires to increase consumer awareness by showing product in an interactive environment. This will help our customers learn about new and emerging technologies. We will be doing headphones; we have a headphone bar, Sony Premium TVs and audio products, sound bars, wireless speaker technology, as well as high-end two-channel audio. We will slowly be adding categories and migrating into the custom installation market as the new store grows.”
In fact, Sony itself was so excited with the idea that they are allowing Certified Sounds to be the sole retailer on Maui for their high-end products. Pace notes: “With our expensive island freight costs, there is really no margin for distributors, so we came to an agreement with Sony directly.” With Simpson holding down the fort at the mobile electronics side, and Pace expediting the new Experience Center, it is bound to be a success.